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Monday, May 9, 2016
Justice Department Permanently Shuts Down International “Psychic” Mail Fraud Scheme
The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York entered a consent decree on Friday that permanently barred eight individuals and entities from operating an alleged international multi-million dollar mail-fraud scheme in the name of alleged psychics Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin. Pursuant to the consent decree entered, the defendants are barred from using the U.S. mail to distribute any advertisements, solicitations or promotional materials on behalf of any psychics, clairvoyants or astrologers. The consent decree also enjoined the defendants from using the U.S. mail to distribute materials representing that services or items offered for purchase will increase the recipient’s odds of winning a lottery, will bring the recipient good luck or will entitle the recipient to receive an inheritance. The consent decree also authorized the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to return any money or personal checks sent to the defendants and detained by the Postal Inspection Service.
The following eight international defendants agreed to be bound by a permanent injunction in order to resolve the United States’ civil suit against them: Canadian company 9097-9394 Québec Inc. dba Infogest Direct Marketing (Infogest); Infogest employees Mary Thanos, Daniel Sousse and Philip Lett, all of Quebec, Canada; Hong Kong corporation Destiny Research Center Ltd.; Destiny Research Center President Martin Dettling of Zurich, Switzerland; Patrick Guerin of France and Maria Duval of France.
In an amended complaint filed in November 2015, the United States alleges that the defendants operated a mail fraud scheme in which they sent letters purporting to be written by psychics Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin to American consumers through the U.S. mail. The letters claim that the psychics have had a specific, personalized vision or psychic reading revealing that the recipient of the letter has the opportunity to achieve great wealth, including claims of winning millions in the lottery. The solicitations urge victims to purchase various products and services in order to ensure that the foreseen good fortune comes to pass. In reality, the solicitations are identical, mass produced form letters sent to tens of thousands of recipients throughout the United States every month. Many of the customers who receive the solicitations are vulnerable victims, including the desperate, elderly and infirm.
The United States alleges that the fraud scheme victimized more than one million Americans, who sent the defendants payments totaling more than $180 million.
“This widespread scam targeted more than one million Americans, many of whom were elderly or in financial distress,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Justice Department is committed to stopping such fraud and pursuing all those responsible for lying to vulnerable consumers for their own financial gain.”
“To line their own pockets, the defendants preyed upon the superstition and desperation of millions of vulnerable Americans,” said U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers for the Eastern District of New York. “We will use every means at our disposal to protect our citizens from fraudulent schemes like this, that target the lonely, the ill, and the elderly.”
The defendants have all agreed to settle the case and be bound by a permanent injunction. The permanent injunction also bars the defendants from making various claims in advertisements sent through the U.S. mail, including claims that products offered for sale will increase the recipient’s odds of winning the lottery or bring the recipient luck or good fortune. The permanent injunction further bars the defendants from using or selling lists of consumers who have responded to the Duval and Guerin solicitations.
The United States’ case is being handled by Trial Attorney Ann F. Entwistle of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, and Chief of Affirmative Civil Enforcement John Vagelatos for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York, in coordination with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime. He has written extensively about organized crime, street crime, sex crime, cyber crime, drug crime, white collar crime, crime fiction, crime prevention, espionage and terrorism. He is an online columnist and contributing editor to The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International and a regular contributor to the Washington Times. His work has also appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and other print and online publications. Paul Davis has been a student of crime since he was a 12-year-old aspiring writer growing up in South Philadelphia. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was 17 in 1970 and served on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War. He also served two years on the Navy harbor tugboat USS Saugus at the U.S. nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland. He went on to do security work as a Defense Department civilian employee and then became a freelance writer. You can read Paul Davis' Crime Beat columns, crime fiction and magazine and newspaper pieces on this website. You can also read his full bio by clicking on the above photo.